Blocked Goal Anger



I learned in my third counseling session this past week that I suffer from what my counselor calls "blocked goal anger." It's not the fierce, fanatical, malicious type of anger that wants to kill all the things. It's a more simple form of anger, with frustration mixed in, that starts to build when a goal has been blocked, or in Jenga terms, when something, or someone, pulls out a piece that topples my tower for the moment.

I gave my counselor two examples of difficult situations I came up against in the week prior, which is how she put her finger on what we're dealing with.

The first scenario was as literal a blocked goal as possible. I dropped Cash off at his horseback riding lesson eight minutes from our house, with the intention to go back home for half an hour or so, then return with Story near the end of Cash's lesson to let her have a few minutes of ride time. (We realized after the kids' first lesson a couple weeks back that Story, rather than wanting to learn grooming and saddling, just wants to sit on the horse and go somewhere.) Everything was fine until I left the farm after dropping Cash off.  A mobile home being pulled by a truck blocked the entire road and forced me to sit and wait, which very soon led to frustration, swirling thoughts about what to do, and finally the finding and driving of an alternate route home. It wouldn't have been so bad, had I not been on a schedule that was only allowing me half an hour at home between trips. Once I finally made it home, we now had only ten minutes before getting in the van to head back to the farm, taking the longer route a second time as well.

Suffice it to say, that was not a happy ten minutes at home. Frustration, annoyance, anger, instability, and the inability to practice positive coping skills, and that's a reason I'm in therapy. Nonetheless, I survived this experience of blocked goal anger without too much obsessive looping.

The second scenario proved much more difficult to get past. A friend and I had plans for breakfast one morning recently, and a few days before the outing, my friend had something unexpected and out of her control come up and needed to change the time by a few hours. It threw me for a loop, for days in fact. I explained to my counselor about all the crazies in my mind when my tower started toppling for the second time in a matter of days. It was the blocked goal anger again, but this time overshadowed by fear, fear that a change to my schedule and a change to my eating habits would feel unsafe.

How have I believed this lie, for so long, that my bondage is protecting me?

Unfortunately, my obsessive looping was monstrous for days over what must seem, as written in a blog post and as read by free people, to be insane.

Perhaps this is why the words of Anne Lamott mean so much to me:

I thank God when my obsessive looping is alleviated. Oh God, thank you - ten whole minutes just passed without one single thought of a cigarette or a drink or the horrible ex. (Help Thanks Wow)

My mind kept thinking its harsh thinky thoughts, but I would distract myself from them gently and say, "Those are not the truth, those are not trustworthy, those are for entertainment purposes only." (Plan B, Further Thoughts on Faith)

I haven't reached the "entertainment purposes only" position for my thoughts yet, but the help from my counselor has the potential, already, to be a stanch for the bleeding anger. Using the friend-moves-breakfast scenario, my counselor walked me through the exercise of identifying the TRIGGER, the EMOTIONS, the LIES, the NEGATIVE REACTIONS, and the TRUTHS (or POSITIVE COPING SKILLS).

Making the lies list was really easy for me:  I can't do this. I'm not gonna be okay. I won't know how to eat before or after. I don't want to make a mistake. My friend should be able to make it work. And so on.

It felt good to tell the truth about my lies to someone.

Making the truths list proved nearly impossible. (If I knew the truths and positive coping skills, I would likely not be stuck where I am.) My counselor practically had to make the list for me. The one voice of reason I added to the list was that "I can do it even if I feel scared," which led us by the end of the session into a discussion of fear versus faith. I had to be told, and will surely need to be reminded, that taking steps by faith will feel foreign.

I think often of the Israelites leaving their bondage in Egypt. I know they had to be walking by faith, as foreigners, through the sea, through the desert, experiencing strange things like manna and water from a rock and a cloud of fire to guide them on their way. It was provision, but they hardly realized it because they remembered all the old ways they were "provided for" as slaves. What a messed up thought pattern they had going, and it went on for years. For years, I have not been able to see or walk into the freedom that is on offer or to trust consistently in provision beyond my own scope and ability. I have preferred a safe place of bondage for far too long. For who wants to do a thing that feels foreign? And who wants to feel unsafe?

But then again, who wants to live a life of fear? A small life of blocked goal anger, again and again? Who wants to go all to pieces when traffic stops or when a friend moves breakfast? Who wants to believe lies?

Not Anne Lamott, for it's she who says, It may be one of those miracles where your heart sinks, because you think it means you have lost. But in surrender you have won. (Help Thanks Wow)

And now, not Ginger either.